Sudan's struggling government offers to go '100 percent Islamic'
The government faces new pressures from the loss of territory and oil revenue to South Sudan, but the push for an Islamic constitution has much older roots.
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As attorney general in 1983, Turabi, a Sorbonne- and Oxford-educated lawyer, was the architect of President Jaafar Nimeiri's embrace of Islamic law in the 1980s.Skip to next paragraph
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Turabi was the éminence grise of Sudan's Islamic transformation starting in 1989 with Bashir, and told this reporter 20 years ago how happy he was because his "work of all these years is finally coming true."
"Yes, we're fighting a jihad, and we've always been fighting a jihad in the Sudan," Turabi said at the time. He cited the French Revolution to justify bloodshed and asked if the West had developed democracy "without violence." Religion, he conceded to this reporter at another meeting in 1998, was also useful "just to sell your cause."
That was also the conclusion of the family of Al-Fateh Omar Hussein, who was determined to die a martyr in 1993. His family was proud, they told this reporter that year in Khartoum, that God had chosen him. "[God] selects who He wants near Him," said Mr. Hussein's mother, Zeinab.
"The aim is not to bring Islam to the people of the south, but to use religion [to fight] the war," acknowledged Hussein's sister, Amel. Before the Islamic regime had reenergized the war, generals ordered to the south would take off their epaulets and refuse to go.
But in the first years of the Bashir regime, officials volunteered to take part themselves, to boost their careers with a stint in the militia at the front. Bashir's brother, a medical doctor, was seen in action on state television. Turabi's youngest brother – a recent college graduate – was killed in the war.
"Religion in this war is not the core subject," said Amel Hussein in 1993. "But when they say it is a jihad to defend your family, your government, and your people, fighters will be motivated by the religious reward."
'A bad dictatorship'
Thus the regime is trying to reinvigorate such sentiment today with talk of an Islamic constitution, Turabi says. But it will be harder this time. "[Bashir] set a very bad example. Islam has produced a most corrupt government," he says. "It's a bad dictatorship, most cruel, no freedom of the press [or] of political parties; no equality for women or non-Muslims, [which] breaks up the country and disunites people."
Sudan's "Islamic" transformation was the first of its kind, meant to be a model in the Sunni Arab word, discounting the 1979 Islamic revolution in Shiite Iran, Turabi says. Yet it has failed, he says – and no amount of repackaging can change that.
Turabi's current opposition has failed to persuade many of Sudan's antiregime activists that he is really with them. They blame him for using Islam to justify violence in the first years of Bashir's reign, including torture.
Turabi knows it.
"When you walk on a path that has never been walked before," he says, "you come to problems that nobody knows, that nobody told you, 'Watch out!' "